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Juncker’s fate at stake in Luxembourg spy scandal vote

Published on 10/07/2013

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Europe's longest-serving leader, Wednesday faced parliament over a secret service scandal that could cost him his premiership.

“I’m not perspiring because I’m scared but because it’s hot,” said the premier renowned for his wit as he fought back in the scandal that may lead to early elections this year.

Though aged only 58, Juncker has been in office for 18 years and in government for 30. He is best known in Europe for a tumultuous eight-year stint as head of the eurozone finance ministers group, which ended in January.

In a rare political drama in tiny Luxembourg, parliament examined a report alleging that the country’s SREL secret service, which the premier is supposed to oversee, had indulged in a spate of misconduct from 2003 to 2009 that included illegal phone-taps, corruption, and even a dodgy car dealership.

“The intelligence service was not my top priority,” Juncker told parliament. “Moreover I hope Luxembourg will never have a prime minister who sees SREL as (his or her) priority.”

A vote by MPs endorsing the report would undermine Juncker’s coalition, made up of his Christian Social People’s Party and junior partner, the Socialist party.

Socialist leader Alex Bodry said earlier Wednesday that he expected “a strong gesture” from Juncker but feared he had “chosen another option.”

“When one thinks one is infallible it’s hard to admit to making mistakes,” he told the daily Luxemburger Wort.

All eyes were on the Socialists after the Liberals and Green parties in the opposition said they were ready to call for a censure motion against Juncker. If lost by the government this could lead to general elections as early as October. Polls were scheduled for May next year.

The report was put together by a parliamentary committee after a Luxembourg weekly last year published verbatim a secretly taped conversation in 2007 between Juncker and the then head of SREL, Marco Mille.

In the recorded conversation, Mille revealed that his staff had also secretly taped a conversation with Luxembourg’s Grand Duke and that the sovereign was in regular contact with Britain’s MI6.

But the parliamentary inquiry set up in the furore that ensued uncovered more dirt: the existence of 13,000 secret files on people and businesses, illegal wire-taps on business leaders, a counter-terror operation that in fact was a front to help a Russian oligarch pay 10 million dollars to a Spanish spy, and even a murky private dealership in luxury cars.

“The commission of inquiry concludes that the prime minister, as head of the intelligence service, not only had no control over his service but also too often omitted to inform the parliamentary control committee or the judiciary of its irregularities, aberrations and illegalities,” the report said.

Addressing the chamber, Juncker hit back, saying the committee had failed to exercise its supervisory powers over the secret service. “It could’ve controlled it … It did not.”

Juncker last month survived the duchy’s first confidence vote in 150 years over a separate scandal. The last confidence motion in Luxembourg was in 1848 and led to the fall of the government.